Ach wer heilet die Schmerzen des, dem Balsam zu Gift ward?

December 4, 2017

Who will heal the pain of him for whom balm has turned to poison?

On Friday and Saturday to the SOH for this,  together with the Alto Rhapsody and BWV 82.  My ticket on Friday was an offer made by SSO at the end of the Marthe-Argerich-no-show saga.  So that all worked out OK for me in the end.

It was a bold programming move by Robertson – bringing together three rarities for live performance in Sydney.  Bluebeard was last done by the SSO in 1981, and only once before that.  The SSO first performed the Brahms in 1967 with Janet Baker and last in 1968 with Lauris Elms.  The orchestra’s only previous performances of the Bach were for visits of John Shirley-Quirk in 1967 and Gerard Souzay in 1968.

It was also a notable act of curation.  The Brahms picked up the thread from the two choral odes heard earlier this year; the Bartok from Pelleas and Mellisande, to which it owes much. P&M was of course given a terrific performance earlier this year by the SSO. Listening to the rebroadcast on ABCFM a couple of weeks ago reminded me just how fine that performance was. The Brahms and Bartok each dealt with love, loneliness and hurt.  The title to this post comes from the text to the Brahms, a poem by Goethe apparently inspired by a sad young man (he had read Werther) whom Goethe met whilst on a trip inspecting mines in the Harz Mountains.

There is a very silly review of the concert in the Australian Financial Review which reads like a jump back to the great Australian tradition of sending any journalist with nothing else on off to review a performance.  Michael Bailey writes:

The night had opened with Johannes Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody, back in Sydney after a 40-year break, although in this case one might suspect that is because it is not the German’s most memorable work. The men of the Opera Australia Chorus bought some religious fervour to the piece’s final section – the switch to C major from the opening’s difficult C-minor helped – but in retrospect it seemed Ms DeYoung was holding something back as the soloist.

With the tour de force to come in the second half of the program, one could not blame her.

I don’t find the Alto Rhapsody unmemorable at all. Whilst a dip in Brahms’ popularity probably accounts in some part for its long absence from SSO programs (it is hard these days to imagine Brahms’ onetime position, still taught to me as a child, as one of the “three Bs”), I’d say a more proximate cause is that being short (about 12 minutes) and requiring a soloist and a chorus, it is too much trouble to program.  And Brahms’ symphonies and concerti probably push his shorter works off the notional roster.

What a treat it was to have the men of the Opera Australia Chorus.  Whilst a true contralto might be more ideally suited to the work, I didn’t sense that Michelle de Young was holding back.

At about the same moment on both nights, about a quarter of the way into the last strophe (the choral, C major one) I found myself moved to tears.

Apart from its key, the Bach was the odd piece out in the program, probably included to take advantage of Andrew Foster-Jones’ appearance for Belshazzar’s Feast.  David Greco stepped in when AF-J didn’t show.

It’s really too intimate a work for the Concert Hall.  Robertson’s response to this was to field a surely bigger-than-Leipzig band – 6-6-6-4-2 in the strings plus a bassoon [maybe there were only 4 violas].  I was closer on Friday than on Saturday.  On Friday it seemed lumbering; on Saturday not so lumbering and I can see why such a beefed-up bass line might have been necessary for those further back.

My mental picture of David Greco was fixed when I first saw him, in early Pinchgut productions. Then he cut a somewhat roly-poly figure.  He no longer does so – an achievement I, especially, must respect.  Greco has spent time in Europe following the Early Music path and this showed, especially in some rather stylish ornaments.  I very much enjoyed his performance.

Diana Doherty played the oboe obbligato.  Michael Bailey writes in his review:

Diana Doherty’s swinging yet melancholy oboe made a case for Mr Bach as a proto-jazz composer.

I can’t say that occurred to me at all.

This post is already gone long enough and I’ve run out of steam to write about Bluebeard’s Castle.  I enjoyed it, even more the second time round.

Others didn’t even get to the first time: the work may have been written in 1911 but Bartok can still drive them away – there was a marked interval exodus.  If only the parent of the crying baby carried out from the circle during the opening suspenseful section on the Friday night had taken the same decision.

My one disappointment was that after the house and stage lights were darkened for the spotlit prologue, the stage lights came back up (and, to a lesser extent, the house lights).  The approach taken in Perth in 2000, with darkness and desk-lights for the orchestra, was more atmospheric.


Enhance your experience

November 28, 2017

I am going to an SSO concert which includes Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle on Friday and Saturday.  I love the music (a performance in Perth in 2000  by the WASO conducted by Janos Fürst was memorable even if by now largely abstractly so) though I cannot for the life of me get my head around the story.  How can we be trusted to take it in without some white-ribbonish editorialising?

Obviously I have missed that it is all a metaphor.  David Robertson says:

The final moment epitomises the passion and the tragedy of a union that can never transcend the fatal flaws contained within it at the outset.

Which seems like a massive understatement.  Sure, in this version of the story Bb hasn’t actually killed all of his former wives, but they all end up locked behind the seventh door together.  If this is love…

I’m also looking forward to the Brahms Alto Rhapsody – the third of his works of this kind to which we have been treated this year – only Nanie has been missed.

A mite tardily, the SSO also sent an email announcing that Andrew Foster-Williams (who didn’t come for Belshazzar) is also not coming to sing the Bach solo cantata Ich habe genug.  This will be a big step-up for David Greco in his place.

Meanwhile, I received another email from the SSO about how I could enhance my concertgoing experience.  It included nothing new.  On the contrary, the header included this picture, which made me quite nostalgic.

Concert information





November 27, 2017


A couple of weeks ago, as an extension to one of my regular trips to Canberra, D and I made it to the Snowy Mountains.

It was a great time to be there, even if the Alpine Way was swarming with a mass motor-bike ride.  There is something mystical about mountains, and, even more for temperate climers such as D and I, snow.  This would have been more plentiful had we managed to get there 2 or 3 weeks earlier.  The trick must be to get there as early as possible after you no longer need snow chains.

Not that there isn’t also much to be enjoyed if one goes later, when the alpine flowers are out, provided you can cope with the fierce horse-flies/march flies.

Unfortunately owing to my chronic under-organisation, it was just a day trip.  Next year D and I hope to manage a longer stay.

This is a view from Charlotte’s Pass.


November 19, 2017


An unanticipated difficulty

November 17, 2017

Today in an email, seemingly in passing, X asked if D and I were “planning any special events in February.”  X and his partner Y are very well organized and at first I thought he was asking about the Mardi Gras Film Festival.  Has next year’s program already come out?

Turns out that some films are already on sale, but I realised after a moment that he must have meant something more special than that.

I had already thought about X and Y since the postal survey result came through.  If anyone I knew might be planning a “special event,”  I thought it might be them.

“What about youse two?”  I asked back.

X’s reply took me by surprise.  This is a snippet:

The sight of two queens dressed in white suits solemnly kissing and throwing confetti is to me comical, and betrays such an insensitivity to the words and connotations of the conventional marriage service that it can fairly be characterised, in any case where it is done in earnest and not as a deliberately camp parody, as a manifestation of philistinism or bumpkinry or both.

X doesn’t want marriage for himself.  He voted “Yes” though he claims he only really made up his mind about that when the Church started throwing its weight around.  A Roman Catholic upbringing can have that effect.

I can just imagine the dinner party (Y is an excellent cook; they have a beautiful home) where (X tells me) X expressed these views forcefully, as is his wont.

It turns out Y has a different view.  It’s now a delicate subject.








November 16, 2017

This was the Daily Telegraph‘s front page today.


There were complaints that it was graceless, especially compared to the other front page (if you are a sports lover) – ie, the back page:


Chris Dorey, editor of the Daily Telegraph, was miffed. The front page is of the lead character in “Married with children.” Can’t you see the joke?

Oh, well now I see the joke, but I can’t say I find it terribly funny and it is still pretty graceless, even if playing well to the Tele’s demographic.

But maybe Dorey does have a point, or would have had if the paper had come out with the back page which the Tele originally announced on Twitter:



At the Sydney Opera House

November 11, 2017



(1)   Everyone’s ticket must be scanned;

(2)  If you cloak your bag, you have to line up to have it searched before deposit; and

(3)  If your bag is small enough for you to be allowed to take it in, you still have to open it for inspection.

There are pnly three lines (one at the right goes to the escalator).  The line backs up well down the stairs out of sight in this shot. It takes 5-10 minutes.  It is far from festive or welcoming.  I doubt if the bag checks would deter a serious conspirator.

You wonder is it necessary. Why can’t a visual check of the tickets suffice?  (Of course you could make up a reason: so that in the event of an incident they can check off who came, or rather, which tickets were used.)

I didn’t notice the chap with the raised finger when I took this quick snap from further up the stairs.  Is he expressing his feelings (and mine) about this rigmarole?



November 11, 2017


This cheered me up whenever I went past on Wardell Road in Dulwich Hill, despite the defacement (note touch-ups) and more serious damage inflicted on the fence.



October 29, 2017

News is in that Sir Ninian Stephen, former Governor-General of Australia, has died aged 94.

On reading accounts of his rather unusual early life, I like to think, or at least hope, that he voted yes in the current postal survey, health permitting.

Section 44

October 27, 2017

Well, the sport is over.  5 of the “Citizenship 7” are out – of whom 2 had gone already.

One of the survivors, Xenophon, has said he’s going already.  Given that British Overseas Citizens have no right of residence in the UK and, unless otherwise stateless, no rights other than to consular assistance (of which X has never availed himself) that seems fair enough.  That kind of citizenship doesn’t count for s 44 purposes.

The lucky survivor is Matt Cavanan, and to that he owes quite a lot to the cunning of his counsel, David Bennett, who outflanked “amicus curiae” Geoffrey Kennett in relying on the experts’ report to establish that there were doubts about the position under Italian law – something which all-too-clearly took Mr Kennett by surprise at the time.  The High Court justices gave Cavanan the benefit of the doubt:

On the evidence before the Court, one cannot be satisfied that Senator Canavan was a citizen of Italy. The concluding section of the joint report suggests that he was not. Given the potential for Italian citizenship by descent to extend indefinitely – generation after generation – into the public life of an adopted home, one can readily accept that the reasonable view of Italian law is that it requires the taking of the positive steps referred to in the joint report as conditions precedent to citizenship.

Not really satisfactory for Cavanan’s case to be determined on such shaky ground and basically a big failure of the quasi-adversarial procedure adopted, but then s 44 is a pretty silly section anyway.